Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Visit to Steve's Crazy Microcar Hoard

Dave, Nick and I followed Steve and Muggsy's trailer of French micro-weirdness to Steve's place outside Upland. I wasn't sure what to expect, but a mid sixties ranch house/microcar farm in an upscale neighborhood wasn't it.  The driveway was largely obscured by a handmade tarp and irrigation pipe gate that blocked a carport. In front of the tarp structure, a faded red spaceage something-or-other [note: Steve says it is the Zeta Sport Coupe prototype, made in Australia by Harold Lightburn] poked out from under a car cover, hinting. How the neighbors haven't advanced on the compound with pitchforks and torches I'll never know.

The one and only Zeta Sport prototype 2 door Coupe
Steve rolled the "gate" open (the wheel was a circular weight from a barbell set) and started the reveal: six tiny cars JUST on this part of the driveway.  I recognized the Scootacar, Frisky and blue VSP car from my previous visit to the Southwest Unique Little Car Show, back in 2014, but the others were new to me.
I was surprised to see an AC Petite - yes, made by the same AC that is better known for the Cobra. Back in 1953 they were more concerned with building cheap transportation for Britons stuck in a recovering postwar economy than they were in racing trophies... their answer: a three wheel two seater with a single cylinder 350cc engine. Steve's car is straight and original, although it could use a good cleaning. I've never seen another one.
We headed into the house, which indicated clearly that Steve is a bachelor - the disassembled Peel Trident in the living room was a dead giveaway.  The backyard was a bit more restrained... only three microcars, including one in the back garage. Frankly, I was so overwhelmed that I barely took any photos, nor can I remember everything I saw.  Steve's collection is so obscure, and so diverse, that I couldn't mentally catalogue everything he had!
As we made our way back out to the street he showed us a Nobel that is slowly being engulfed by foliage outside his bedroom window. I'm not exactly sure of the lineage, but Nobels are connected to Fuldamobils- and they are some of the funkiest-looking cars ever designed. Counting this one, I think Steve has at least three of them. The body is pretty straight, but everything is apart and some bits are missing - Steve says he'll never get to it, so it may be for sale... don't think I didn't examine it to see if a Crosley engine could be made to work.
Nobel carcass
We unloaded one of the cars from the trailer and maneuvered it under the carport, careful not to damage the other cars already there. Steve closed everything up and we followed them over to his storage facility - an acre or two of property running along a canal a few blocks from Steve's house.  Again, I really failed on getting pictures, because I can't remember half of what was there, and it was some bizarre stuff, including a life-sized junk metal Tyrannosaurus.  The property has a large metal barn, which, unsurprisingly, is jammed full of bizarro vehicles. The most 'normal' car in the barn is a newish wrecked Bentley, which Steve wanted for the engine.  
Stashed next to that is a three wheeler that he'd been talking about all weekend - the fastest three wheeled vehicle in the world. It was a wedge-shaped '80s thing that had been run on the Indy track at some point long ago. Steve said it had been on the cover or Popular Mechanics, and sure enough, Dave soon found a picture online of the October 1984 issue with Steve's car zooming by at an extreme angle.  I actually had a subscription to PM when that issue came out!
There were of course, several more odd French microcars hidden away - the coolest of which was a tiny square van from the seventies or eighties - he actually had a couple variations of it. There may be someone in the US with more weird French cars than Steve has, but I'd be surprised. 

We went back outside, and Steve gave us a tour of the property as Muggsy boonie-crashed through the weeds on a homemade "whizzer."  It hit 5:30 and we had to get going - Steve had a dinner date and I had to be back in Sac and ready to sell at the swap meet by 4AM.  We said our goodbyes - all of our minds boggled by Steve and his crazy collection - and headed north.  Amazing end to a very fun day.  Thanks Steve!
Nick, Steve and Dave - barn in the background

Note: Steve chimed in on Facebook after this post was live and offered some details and corrections. 

"[The] Zeta... is the one and only Zeta Sport prototype 2 door Coupe. It is both the prototype for the run of 28 Zeta Sports cars that were all doorless convertibles, and the only one made as a coupe (with suicide doors).  

"They were made in Australia after Harold Lightburn, (Zeta's founder) purchased the rights to produce a derivative of the Frisky Sprint showcar that stole the 1958 Earl's Court motor show. That car was a couple of feet less tall - truly sensational, and used the photogenic 500cc Excelsior triple engine mounted amidships, with chain drive to a separate transmission and differential.

"Someone post a pic of that - you won't be disappointed!"   - Steve Mandell

He's right!

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